NHL and NHLPA announce agreement on Return To Play plan and CBA extension


The National Hockey League announced Monday afternoon that the league and its Players' Association come to an agreement on the framework for this summer's Return To Play plan, as well as an extension to the current collective bargaining agreement through the 2025-26 season.

The agreement on the league's protocols will become official when they are ratified by the NHL Board of Governors, as well as the NHLPA's Executive Board and the full NHLPA membership.

NHLPA, NHL Reach Tentative Agreement on Return to Play Plan, CBA Extension; Set Dates for Resumption of Play https://t.co/QKnu4L2jWV pic.twitter.com/6ClJWYhQwH

— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) July 6, 2020

Both the NHL and the NHLPA have been active for the past couple of weeks trying to finalize these discussions, which included the extension of the CBA to avoid the possibility of a fourth lockout since the 1994-95 season.

Along with this announcement, the league has officially set in place some key dates for the Return To Play plan. Phase 3 of the initiative will start next Monday, July 13 that will see the start of formal training camps for all 24 teams taking part in this summer's festivities. About two weeks later, all 24 teams will travel to their respective hub city on Sunday, July 26 to get ready for the commencement of Phase 4 (formal return to play) on Saturday, Aug. 1. 

The league is expected to officially announce the hub city locations for the Return To Play format whenever the final ratifications have been voted on. Those cities are both expected to be in Canada with Toronto, Ontario hosting the Eastern Conference, and Edmonton, Alberta hosting the Western Conference, as well as the Conference Finals round and the Stanley Cup Final.

Sunday night brought about a number of reports from hockey insiders that have explained some of the protocols that have been agreed upon for both Phase 3 and 4 of the NHL's Return To Play plan.

Here are some of those protocols touched upon in the 87-page Memo of Understanding that teams and supporting staff will have to follow:


Phase 3 protocols:

  • Each team shall provide the NHL with their list of participating players by no later than Thursday, July 9.
  • Teams are limited to 30 skaters (forwards and defensemen) at training camps, but will be allowed an unlimited number of goaltenders.
  • Any player may choose not to participate in Phases 3 and 4 without discipline or penalty.
  • The opt-out deadline for the players who choose not to participate in the Return To Play format is three days after the ratification of the new CBA.
  • In the event a player is diagnosed with a confirmed positive case of COVID-19, that player shall be deemed to have sustained an illness arising out of the course of his employment as a hockey player and may be removed from training, practice or play, and his condition shall be treated as a hockey related injury under the CBA.
  • If a player who undergoes a medical exam is determined by the team doctor and infectious disease expert that he's high risk of "serious illness" due to COVID-19, they will not be allowed to take part in Phase 3 and 4.
  • If a player tests positive for COVID-19 or develops symptoms in either Phase 3 or 4, teams are not permitted to share that information with the media or public absent prior approval from the NHL.


Phase 4 protocols:

  • A total of 52 people per-team will be allowed inside the bubble.
  • Each team will have a minimum of three coaches allowed, but a maximum of 31 players.
  • Team failure to comply with the protocols in place in the bubble could lead to significant financial penalties, and the potential loss of draft picks.
  • Players who are authorized to leave the bubble can return. They will be forced to quarantine on return, pending four negative tests over a four-day period or longer.
  • The number of people to be tested daily in the bubble includes:
    • Any player/coach/staff member
    • Officials
    • Ice crew
    • Security
    • Hotel bartenders
    • Food service staff
    • Arena food and beverage
    • Hotel housekeeping
    • Hotel kitchen and staff
    • Transportation

There is also the possibility that the NHL will not be able to commence the start of Phase 3, or will have to delay the start of Phase 4 due to the concerns surrounding COVID-19. However, this has been a big talking point during the negotiation period and has been addressed in the Memo of Understanding.

Here is how the NHL has worded this circumstance according to Sportsnet hockey insider Elliotte Friedman
"At any time either before the commencement of, or during, Phase 3, either the NHL or the NHLPA believes that conditions, in which the commencement or continuation of Phase 3 would likely create a material risk to Player health and safety and/or jeopardize the integrity of the competition anticipated in Phase 4, are imminent or may have emerged, which conditions may include an uncontrolled outbreak of COVID-19 in the Players of one or more Clubs participating in Phase 3, that party shall immediately notify the other of its belief, following which the parties shall jointly consult with the NHL Chief Medical Officer, the NHLPA Medical Consultant, participating Players, General Managers, and such infectious diseases experts as they may consider advisable. Thereafter, the Commissioner (or a person designated by him) shall make a determination after consultation with the Executive Director of the NHLPA (or a person designated by him) whether to postpone, delay, move or cancel Phase 3. The basis upon which the Commissioner is to make his determination to postpone, delay, move, or cancel Phase 3, shall be whether the commencement or continuation of Phase 3 would likely create a material risk to Player health and safety and/or jeopardize the integrity of the competition anticipated in Phase 4. If the NHLPA is dissatisfied with the determination of the Commissioner, it may contest the matter in the form of an expedited arbitration of a Grievance before the Impartial Arbitrator pursuant to Section 17.17 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement."
In terms of a possible CBA extension, there is a provision for a one-year extension of the CBA if there is more than $125 million owed to the league in escrow. The salary cap for the 2020-21 season will be set at $81.5 million, and there's a possibility that it will remain there until revenues hit $4.8 billion.
Here are some other details that have been reported about the NHL's agreement surrounding the new CBA:

  • Phase 2 of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery sweepstakes will take place on Aug. 10 after the conclusion of the play-in qualification round.
  • The 2020 NHL Draft will take place some time in mid-October, while NHL Free Agency is set to begin on Nov. 1.
  • The league will also allow its players to return to playing in the Winter Olympics in 2022 and 2026, pending an agreement with the International Olympic Committee.

A final ratification process for the agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA will take place over the next few days.

Stay tuned for the latest updates on this developing story...